Graphs, Maps, and Trees

When reading Franco Moretti ‘s “Graphs, Maps, and Trees”, I felt that I saw him focus on two main points. First of all, he brings up that scholars of literary history tend to spend plenty of time documenting the classics of a given period, buy pay almost no attention to the average, everyday works that were published in said period. The second point regarded his philosophy of studying stories and trends in stories by using, “graphs, maps, and trees”.
On one hand, reading his first point makes perfect sense. There seems something almost perfectly human and expected in people focusing on the major works of a given era rather than what was written and read from week-to-week by the ordinary people. We are a big event kind of species. And yet, somehow, this seems truly tragic. How can a person be a real historian if they do not have some knowledge of what reading a book for the average person would look like? In this sense, his book is not just a description of a style of analytical thinking. It is a bold call to action for historians to delve into the past and really immerse themselves in the writings of the time.
The second part of his argument brings to mind the Robin Williams movie, “Dead Poet’s Society”. In this movie, at the beginning of the school year at an elite prep school, Williams, playing the unorthodox English teacher of a group of young men, has them tear out the pages of their literature books that teach students how to judge the greatness of a work based on charts. As this (and the rest of the movie) make clear, Williams character greatly prefers the qualitative over quantitative.
However, there is a place for everything, and this work by Mr. Moretti would seem to provide the answer. Fine, he says. You can’t use quantitative methods to analyze the book itself on a merit basis. But you can to find its place in history, to chart not only the progression of actions within the book, but the place of the book in the genre predominant of whatever time the book is from. This is what I approve most of his system…the reliance of these charts for analyzing trends. In previous posts, the method of using pictures to tell history as a future way of communicating it on the internet was discussed. While the chart system Moretti proposes is not something that could only come about in the internet age, it does make said idea more in depth. If we truly are living in the age of the database, this system would seem perfect for taking that information and molding it to tell the story of history.